Pitching and Defense Wins Games Like Organizing + Redistricting Wins Economic Justice

By Kirk Clay

People ask “what makes Kevin Kiermaier so special?” Is it his home run percentage? No. How about his batting average or the RBIs he produces? Nope. He’s an average hitter but his 5.0 defensive WAR (a statistic for how many wins a team has with or without a player) in 2015 sets him apart from the pack. What’s more, he has ranked in the top ten of “most valuable position players” in baseball two seasons straight.

What makes him and many players like him so impactful is their defense! They catch a lot of balls and that wins games. Accordingly, baseball clubs across the league are investing more in “golden glove” contenders to improve their defensive capabilities in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage. Why? Baseball’s new crop of high-powered pitching “stunners” are regularly producing games with 2-1 scores therefore teams have to defend better to win.

The same is true in political settings across America today– economic and social justice initiatives are being decided by close margins. What’s sad is that the people who most need our help are falling further behind while economic and social prosperity is thriving in other communities. It’s clear that America is at a watershed moment and we have to defend our values to win in communities that are affected by economic and social justice issues.

Meanwhile, teams of institutions and politicians are creating strategies for winning the next decade of policies. State houses, city councils and many other institutions are quietly preparing for what will soon decide electoral boundaries for our representatives – the census, reapportionment, and redistricting. These strategies will have a major impact on who is counted, how much resources a community receives, who votes in what jurisdiction, and who is elected to public office.

The U.S. Constitution states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the beginning, we used the population count to levy taxes or property and to pressure people for military service. Also, slaves held in bondage could be counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals.

Times have changed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1970 there were about 1,500 African American elected officials.  By 2010 the number of African Americans in elected offices had passed 9,000. However, improvements to representation must not be confused with improvements in economic and social justice. Based on the number of elected officials reported by the Census Bureau in 1992 – 513,200 – in 2010 African American elected officials surpassed 2% of all elected officials but how do we turn that into a positive for all?

As in baseball, the census and redistricting work for 2020 must maximize civic empowerment by defending past improvements while agitating to move the nation closer to fair-minded policies and representation for everyone.

To achieve this, we must focus on three things: 1) more local level civic action to set up long-term pathways for economic and social justice; 2) the strategic use of grassroots organizing to push for change; and 3) aggressively defend and reject any attempt to harm the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This work is not just about apportioning seats in 2020, it also impacts local-level elected offices this and next year. In fact, significant shifts in the U.S. population since the last redistricting will influence control of the next congress. District demographics has already changed and in order to maximize economic and social justice we must take action at this critical juncture to make sure there are no unforced errors in policy.

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Kirk Clay is a Partner at Capitol View Advisors and a Chief Strategist for Political Contact Management a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.

 

A Balanced Viable Plan to Create Opportunity for All

 

This is a multi-entry blog about the American Rising Electorate, authored by a Sr. Advisor, Analyst, and Strategist (#PoppingTheCLUTCH).

By Kirk Clay

Evidence based civic engagement is a fairly nascent field. In fact, up until 20 years ago what people now think of as civic engagement for “people of color” was characterized naively as just minority outreach. Therefore, it’s no wonder that many organizations and efforts struggle to identify what an effective civic engagement plan is and by what method to execute one successfully. Above the CloudsFirst, it’s tough to pinpoint a distinct all-encompassing explanation of what civic engagement is. Second, it’s equally as difficult to find an all-inclusive formula for putting together a viable program. Lastly, the moment an approach is successful it’s dismissed as predictable or characterized as a chance occurrence so we can’t learn anything new from those experiences.

This line of thinking is incorrect. On the contrary, civic engagement is the act of balancing priorities and tactics while executing an intentional plan in places where you intend to score a victory. An effort can give rise to a “balanced viable plan” by designing and cherry-picking a unique suite of tactics to capture the attention of people who are ready to take action. As a result, true civic engagement calls for connecting and supporting clusters of people who have broad networks of their own.

Additionally, true civic engagement calls for assembling platforms of engagement around those communities of shared interests. In a nutshell, civic engagement is opportunity. In fact, true civic engagement is a multicultural effort that intentionally creates value for those communities in an attempt to generate opportunity for all involved.

Creating opportunity is a difficult task. The concept of “opportunity” itself may run counter to an organization’s short term aspirations. From our stand point, a great deal of organizations and efforts are too unintentional in creating opportunity when creating their plans. They start with good intentions and after a few bumps in the road or after a small set back they lose conviction. Furthermore, the leader of an effort may become overwhelmed with “urgent but not important” issues and set aside what’s really important for the organization. Sometimes it seems as though these leaders are awe-struck when presented with a flurry small short-term fires and respond by abandoning thoughtful long-term opportunity building work.

Too many organizations and efforts deal with this problem by using “ineffectual methods” as a substitute for creating opportunity, For example, when they first set out to engage communities of color they define civic engagement as an aspiration. Aspirations are the building blocks of a good civic engagement plan however that’s not all there is. Then the organization doesn’t put forward a “viable model” or of a clear path forward. If they do put forward a vision it’s usually an outline and it does not take into account the aspirations of the diverse communities and geographies the organization intends to score a victory with. Meanwhile, there certainly is not enough attention paid to what creates opportunity for those communities of interest.

Let’s look at how this plays out in an organization with a goal of increasing people of color civic representation.

  • Immediately following the Civil War over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation.
  • By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices.
  • In 1970 there were about 1,500 African American elected officials.
  • In 2000 the number of African Americans in elected offices had reached about 9,000.

Based on the number of elected officials reported by the Census Bureau in 1992 – 513,200 – in 2000 African American elected officials were 2% of all elected officials. African Americans were 12.3 % of the population. Overall, that number has declined in most categories for every election since 2000.

This kind of analysis is critical for connecting with communities of color. What these communities want and need is an opportunity to grow. To tap into the power of the “Rising American Electorate” you have to have a comprehensive strategy that spells out everything your organization will do to create that opportunity and where you will do it. A balanced viable plan can be the foundation of a successful effort if it’s rooted in evidence based data.

The demographics in America are changing so rapidly that it’s unfeasible to assume that business as usual will win the day. Instead, it’s the organizations and leaders that learn to embrace these changes that will succeed. Also, they will be the best equipped to capitalize on new opportunities for engaging communities that share the same interests.

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Kirk Clay is a partner at Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.

Opportunities to Effect Change

Opportunities to Effect Change

This is a multi-entry blog about the American Rising Electorate, authored by a Sr. Advisor, Analyst, and Strategist (#PoppingTheCLUTCH).

Kirk Clay Pic

In the end, this is a blog about opportunities, as well as strategies for engaging “communities that share the same interests” and ways to encourage them to become a part of the solution through donations, volunteering, social, academic, and civic engagement. Although this blog pulls from my experiences in the organizations listed below, in no way does that render our model ineffective for other non-profits, charitable institutions, businesses, government agencies, or for-profit institutions. Truthfully, I’ve witnessed these strategies effectively applied in just about every organization and effort conceivable. I learned these strategies while working for the institutions listed below and each provided me a unique set of issues, demographics, geographies, and resources to pull from.

 

Within these organizations we will explore the nuances of “non-ethnic” vs “authentic” engagement tactics and learn if they work or not. We believe the problem a current collaborative faces is that they’re one-dimensional in their approach. Their work is based on an assumption that “non-ethnic” civic behavior is the standard. Therefore, the behavior of people of color is viewed as “deviant” versus being understood as behavior rooted in and reflective of a different set of values, beliefs, experiences and world view.

 

One problem with this approach is that we fail to recognize opportunities to understand the complex nature of political behavior by people of color. This makes it difficult to learn from experiences that vary from the so-called standard and that makes it almost impossible to put into practice policies that will empower the progressive community to move forward.  Instead, we waste time on forcing a square block into a round hole. We direct resources to develop programs, services, methods and frameworks that ultimately do not deliver the desired outcome and do not develop leaders of color who speak the language of the desired voter. Our approach is different and the blog that I have chosen to write will be rooted in our experiences and presented within that context.

 

Before yours truly arrived in this town, I had no idea that I would become a Sr. Advisor, Analyst or a Strategist. In fact, I came to Washington more than 20 years ago as an intern in the office of Presidential Personnel. Functioning as an intern at the White House not only expanded my capabilities but also set in motion a series of experiences that laid the foundation for what would become the opportunity of a lifetime. As a result of that opportunity I became a Sr. Advisor for PowerPAC+ where I was groomed to be a political tactician. While there, we perfected our work to transform the nescient “Rising American Electorate” to what is now a driver of American politics. This blog gives an account of that conversion and in what way our approach shaped it.

 

Our methodology was cultivated by way of my personal journey, from the White House, People For the American Way, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation to Common Cause, the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Tavis Smiley Foundation, Maryland Leads and PowerPac+. The tactics learned in these organizations consequently develop into a point of reference for most of our handiwork through the decade. Throughout my time in Washington, I’ve toiled and tinkered with many strategies, methods, and systems to create a structure to hang our ideas on while we refine and develop innovative ways to edify the models. Within PowerPAC+, there were five people in particular who were significant in advancing these ideas. At the NAACP there were dozens of leaders, members, activists, unit leaders, state presidents, and board members — including individuals whose anecdotes are recounted later in this blog. Note that each and every one played an important part, especially the board of directors for the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and people I regard as friends, they were all ground-breaking innovators who molded these theories and efforts. It is our aspiration that over the course of the next several months you will find something in our learning to help you connect with the information and resources you need to support and further your mission.

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Kirk Clay is a partner at Capitol View Advisors a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.

#GA123: Politicians Should Be About More Than Impeachment –  Freedom Summer ‘64 to Freedom Fall ‘14

By Kirk Clay

If you read the most popular headlines today, you would think that these are unequivocally the worst of times in America. They say that Congress wants to impeach the President of the United States. They say that the economy has stalled and Americans who work hard and play by the rules don’t have an opportunity to live the American4.3 dream. They say that our immigration system is broken and that the children of undocumented immigrants should be punished for what their parents did years ago. They say that voters of color have an unjust and disproportionate influence on the political system.
These headlines only tell part of the story. The backstory is far more complicated. For example, our economy has grown every month for the last five years. Unemployment is on the decline and has reached its lowest level in eight years. Added to that, our attitude towards comprehensive immigration reform has shifted to the point that now three fourths of the electorate believes that “deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States is unrealistic.” Lastly, most every American wants voting to be a basic right – like the freedom of speech.

So why doesn’t it feel like we’re making progress? Why are we so ready to believe the headlines? Sure, our economy is doing well but some of us are still nervous about a possible downturn — although there are no signs indicating that will happen. Is it that many of the jobs being created are low wage service sector jobs or tech jobs that involve cutting-edge skills? Is it because these are not the kinds of jobs that people living in poverty or losing unemployment insurance for the first time are positioned to take advantage of?

There has been a lack of progress in comprehensive immigration reform as well. Yes, a bill has passed the Senate and President Barack Obama says he would sign it but the bill has not made it to his desk. In fact, this policy may never be introduced in the House of Representatives for a vote. If it does the bill must also survive a grueling amendment process that is full of “poison pills” and middle-of-the-road compromises.

 

While politicians find it hard get anything done and continue to stall progress, deportations are at historic levels. In fact, the Congress member who calls for more boarder security seems to be really looking for an excuse to do nothing. Sure, the federal government has the obligation to address our boarder issues and crackdown on companies that knowingly break the law but we shouldn’t discriminate against any student that has been here for years, stayed out of trouble, and attends our schools.

Tying all of this together is our democracy and the freedom to vote. Politicians are now introducing policies that would manipulate election laws resulting in seniors and veterans – as well as people of color – suddenly not being able to vote.

 

In fact, African Americans, Latinos and young Whites are purported to be less likely than others to vote in midterm elections. While the current polling models that political experts use are barely an indicator for accurately measuring voter intensity for this demographic, we have to acknowledge their conclusions. They point to a trend that suggests voter turnout in these communities will decrease 3-5% every midterm election. If they’re correct, that would suggest a new negative dynamic in politics – one of our most fundamental freedoms is being inhibited.

The truth is that without the freedom to vote, we don’t have a democracy. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Right Act into law as an attempt to address widespread racial discrimination. Section 5 of the Act encompassed a preclearance provision that required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to obtain permission from the District of Columbia U.S. District Court or the U.S. Attorney General before enacting changes to their voting systems.

 

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 4b of the law – the formula that determines which governments and locations are tied to pre-clearance. Following the Shelby decision, there are now deep concerns about the impact newly passed voting laws will have on access to the ballot box for all Americans.  Especially laws related to early voting and voter identification.

These post-Shelby voter laws and other laws will greatly impact voter turnout for voters of color, women and young people.  This is particularly troubling when combined with the demographic and political transformation occurring all over America.  Not only will these laws affect turnout potential, they dilute the whole premise of our democracy where voting is intended to be the voice of the people.

 

Let’s look at Georgia for example, a state which is experiencing an extraordinary demographic and political shift.  Its voter identification law that was signed in 2005 by Governor Sonny Perdue is one of the harshest.  It requires that everyone voting in person has to have a state-issued photo ID for their ballot to count.

 

This law has a significant destabilizing impact on voters. Now that voters of color make up 33% of Georgia’s registered voters (30% Black, 2% Latino, and 1% Asian) this law is reminiscent to a “Jim Crow-era” act. People of color’s vote share grew from 32% in 2008 to 37% for the first time ever and Latinos will account for 52% of Georgia’s new eligible voters in 2016.

Laws like these only hurt democracy by slowing down the voting process. If we continue to overlook the real challenges of our economy, or neglect the people that our immigration laws impact, things will only deteriorate and foster an atmosphere of additional conundrums – saddling our children and grandchildren with an unfair burden of our creation.
Politicians should be about more than impeachment.  They should pass laws to fix these problems. Let’s get active. #GA123

 

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Kirk Clay, Senior Advisor